Friday, March 29, 2013

10 Twenty-Nineth Beginning (Nanowrimo 2007) Organizing Aunt Sheila

[Do not read any part of the Twelfth Beginning as if it were a story or you will be disappointed. In 2007, my strategy for Nanowrimo was to call my efforts 'literary' and go completely non-linear, dumping ideas and references I had collected for years just to get them out of my mind and off of my desk.]

[ . . . Continuing the discussion as Barbara helps her Aunt Sheila to organize.]

“Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”  That had been attributed to a Beatle at one point.  But like Abe Lincoln, Mark Twain, and Ben Franklin, you had to search to be sure the quote had not been misattributed.  You could find nearly any quote attributed to one or more of the big three in print or on the internet.  They were names that people gravitated towards. 

Well, the shoes were still dry.  And as overpriced as zip-locks were, they did have their uses.

Sheila took her time walking back to the log.  There were birds in the meadow beyond the log.  Blackbirds mostly.  Barbara was sitting on the log, her attention on the book and pencil.  There was a competitive streak hidden under that meek exterior. 

What’s the puzzle?

This first one isn’t a puzzle.  They’re calling them obstacles.  The first obstacle is “What letter appears once only in each of the first two words but not at all in the last two words.”  It seems more like clerical work than anything else.  I’m going to assume that it’s designed to program my brain to be a genius.

Interesting assumption.

Well, it is a Mensa book. 

That’s only the top two percent.  And it’s that portion of the top two percent that feels the need to say they’re in the top two percent.

Have you know any Mensans?

I was one, one year.  Didn’t get enough out of it to pay another twenty dollars.

They make you pay.

Oh, every club requires dues.  I got a newsletter and I’m sure they have internet things, now.  I also got a button that said “First Time”.  You were supposed to wear it for, say, your first local games night or your first state convention.  People were supposed to see it and introduce you around.

Did it work.

I was very, very not social at the time.  I think I went to one games night and one special show in a Planetarium that I rather liked.  This was back in Ohio.  We lived in Ohio for nearly a year before moving to California.

So they showed particularly nice stars at the Planetarium?

I don’t remember the stars part, although there probably was some of that.  Then they did a rendition of an Isaac Asimov short story.  I’m blanking on the name.  It wasn’t Nightfall.  It was the one about the end of the Universe and the question that restarted it.

That sounds interesting.

The light effects were well done.  If you want to keep working on your obstacle, I don’t mind sitting here.

Well, the first one was easy.  Let’s see about the second one.  “Remove one letter from the first word and place it into the second word to form two new words.  Yada yada. . . that looks a little more interesting.

Barbara continued in silence.  Sheila closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of the outdoors.  She listened as Barbara worked her way through Obstacle 3:  “What word has a similar meaning to the first word and rhymes with the second word.”

Barbara frowned and started poking at the book and making hash marks.  Sheila looked over and saw a nest of interlocking triangles and rectangles. 

I hate those count the shapes things. 

Hah, the last question says “How many hexagons can you find?”  Any answer would be right for that.

Pedantically speaking, yes.  Any number you would suggest would presumably be the number you found.

So unless I guessed a number that I hadn’t found, I’d be right. 

Which makes it an honesty test.

Ah!  I hadn’t thought of that.  I was trying to connect it with the bridge in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 

I’ve seen that once or twice.

You didn’t like it.

It was like watching South Park.  Bits were funny, but there was enough that was . . . off that I couldn’t enjoy the whole thing.  I saw the bridge bit as a clip on a talk show before I saw the whole movie.  As a bit, the bridge scene was brilliant.  I’ve been told that I’m too judgmental about the rest. 

Yes, yes you are.  Although there are one or two comments that I could do without in the Castle Anthrax scene.

Which one is that?

“Naughty Zoot – the grail-shaped beacon?”

Sheila tilted her head and rolled her eyes to the left.  Ah, the oral sex.

Barbara laughed, discomfort bubbling away.  You always surprise me when you do that.  You avoid saying . . . even things like poop.  Then you let off with porn or oral sex. 

It’s probably a reaction to all of the foster children.  I’ve needed to rein in their language, some of them.  But you can’t let them think that language is a lever to bother you with.  So I shift back and forth.  I’ll have to watch to see if I’m doing it when the person I’m talking to is trying to avoid saying something. 

You don’t know if you’re doing it that way? 

No.  I hadn’t really thought about it at all, ‘til you brought it up.  Now I’ll have to think about it. 

Most people know.

Most people say they know.  But most people are shoveling.

Do you say that to avoid saying bullshit?

No.  It’s my own adaptation.  Do you remember when the Left Brain vs Right Brain meme hit the magazines and Sunday supplements?

No. But I’ve run across references.  Something about the right brain being creative and the left brain being ordered and them not talking to each other.  And what kind of a word is meem?

A small one.  It’s an idea or procedure or piece of style that can travel from one person to another.  Words are made of phonemes.  Worldviews are made of memes.

So it’s something like a paradigm? 

Paradigms are bigger.  In fact I think paradigms are made up of memes.  Or can be.  I may have a quote to that effect.

I haven’t logged one with either meme or paradigm, yet.

We’ve still got a couple of book cases to go.  And then there are the boxes. 

Yes, I suggested this walk to avoid the boxes.

Did you?  That was clever, insightful, and effective.

Thank you. 

You’re welcome.

I’m not used to people being happy that I’ve tricked them.

It’s a normal enough human interaction.  I don’t see anything sinister about it.  You gave me something I needed and wanted to get something that you wanted. 

Yes, but most people would see it as Losing.

Well, that would be my problem, surely?  If I don’t want you arranging to get me what I want, then I’m going to have to be more on guard.

Barbara laughed.  Online it would have been LOL. 

Yes, but most people don’t see it that way.

Most people don’t want to see things as they are.  They want a story that sounds better and that lets them maneuver for what they want behind the story.  Of course everyone is maneuvering.  All you can hope for is that they do it in a kindly manner.  Which you have done.

Thank you.

I wouldn’t have thought of you avoiding the boxes because I’m too occupied with avoiding other things myself. 

I’ve noticed that.  I’m also getting curious.

Sheila could not help frowning.

But, I’m going to wait and see what I can pick up naturally and with a few questions here and there as subjects come up in context.

Until we get to the video interviews.

Barbara’s head came down, but the eyes looking out were not timid.  Well I was hoping you wouldn’t twig to that.

There was a pause.  Birds twittered and something splashed, somewhere.  Barbara hadn’t seen any sign of water and was mildly curious for a moment.

We were talking about something and got sidetracked.  Not that the side track wasn’t scenic.

They cast their minds back.  Barbara was first to touch ground.

We were talking about left brains and right brains.

Ah, and shoveling. 

Yes, you said it was your own idiom.

Imagine, if you will, a herd of memes, rampaging across the fields of the Sunday Supplements.  There may have been a book that started it out.  There were definitely books that followed.  And, of course, there was probably a journal article or two at the heart of it, although they would not have been referred to directly at any point, nor, I dare say, interpreted correctly.

At the core of it were what seemed to be a troop of ex-epileptics who had had surgery to sever their corpus callosi.

Corpus which?

It’s a fiber tract that runs between the two hemispheres of the brain.  It contains nerves connect the two hemispheres.  I saw a 3D model of the brain, once, that could be taken apart and put together like a jigsaw puzzle.  The Corpus callosum looked a lot like a butterfly that had been squashed by a basketball and then peeled off.


Probably says something about me, although I’m not sure what.

No doubt that you once played basketball and have seen butterflies.

True, but of no consequence.  Where were we?

Surgery to cut through the butterfly.

Yes.  These people had had huge, raging epileptic seizures and the surgery had been done as a last ditch effort to stop them.  It seems that it was successful.  But it left people with diminished connections between the two sides of the brain.

You say diminished.

Yes.  I looked into it a bit and there is at least one other connection, normally, and other connections may be there for individuals. 

Idiosyncratic Brain Connections?

Yes.  Band Name.  Barbara giggled.

Now when I say herds of ex-epileptics. 



You said troops of ex-epileptics.  It was herds of memes.

Thank you, ungrateful child.  Barbara giggled again.

The troops of epileptics.

Ex-epileptics.  With their hemispheres severed.  When I say that, I have no idea how many of them there were.  The articles seemed to be quoting the same patient over and over, although there was one article that mentioned a female patient, where most of them were mentioning male patients.  I suppose there could have been as few as three people being studied.

Because they were being studied.  The surgery was heroic, done to save some quality of life even if there was great cost.  So there were scientists studying the functioning of the ex-eps to see what the cost was, using the opportunity to gain additional knowledge of how the brain works.


Yes.  It was already known that the right side of the body reports to and is controlled by the left side of the brain and vice versa.  So the scientists created a device that would show an image to one eye or the other and ask ‘what did you see’. 

Now the speech areas are normally located in the left side of the brain, so things shown to the right eye would be correctly described while those shown to the left eye wouldn’t be.


Yes, but a person has two hands.  So they would make up a strip of card that had several images on it.  Then they would send an image to the left eye, ask what he saw and while the voice was saying it didn’t see anything, the left hand would point to the correct image.

More interesting.

The story that was in almost all of them was showing a tree to the right eye and a shovel to the left eye.  The voice would say tree, while the hand went to the shovel.  When asked why the hand went to the shovel, the man would say something along the lines of, well, of course we need a shovel to plant the tree.

Now here was a person who had had a portion of their brain removed.  And they knew that they were being studied, although I will grant that the scientists probably never told him what, exactly, was being studied.  Scientists do that.  They’ll tell you that a test is for one thing so that you’re not thinking about the thing that they’re actually watching.

But he knows that he’s being studied.  And his hand is working without him.  But he immediately reaches for an explanation, and as soon as he has one, he’s unshakable.  He planned to touch that card for the exact reason stated.

And when I read that, I though, my god.  People are doing that all the time.  They’re being very sure of themselves with no real rational thought at all.

I’ve read somewhere, that they’ve identified the area of the brain that thinks up reasons for what you’ve already done. 

The rationalization area – like sour grapes.

Yes.  Or mostly yes.  Rationalization is motivated.  It’s meant to relieve anxiety and make a person feel better.  Shoveling is just automatic.  It fills in the gaps and presents a person with a coherent view of their own behavior.  It may be inaccurate, but it doesn’t have to be self-serving.

That’s almost scary if you think about it right.

It’s scary no matter how you think of it.  I’m always distrustful of anyone who isn’t distrustful of their own conclusions.  You see, there was a woman in some of the later articles.  The scientists pulled something on her.  I’m sure they did the regular tests, too, but the test that was cited would have gotten someone censured if it were done today.

Barbara leaned in.

The put a picture of a house, or some other benign object on the right side, and a picture of a naked man on the other.

Barbara put a hand over her mouth, appalled and giggling.

She would say house or whatever, but she’d be laughing when she said it.  They’d ask her why she was laughing and she said I don’t know.  I don’t know.  It’s just a funny, funny house.

She said she didn’t know.  Maybe she had more permission to say that.  Like she could stop for directions if she was lost.

Yes.  There’s that.  There’s also the fact that women are usually less lateralized than men, so that there might be more brain areas analyzing the naked man linguistically.  Although women also have, again, on average, larger corpus colossi. 

Bell curve.

Yes, exactly.  And you’d think that taking out a larger, more often used tract would strand more brain function, not less.


So, I adapted the word shoveling.  I have to explain it, if I forget and use it.  But then I have to explain a lot of the words I use, so it doesn’t change much. 

[The conversation continues later.]

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